Our butt is the one part of the body we can’t see very often, at least not without some effort. Yet, it’s often the one part of the body we’re the most concerned with. Just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean other people aren’t looking, right? And most of us aren’t very happy with our butts.
We think they’re too small, too big, too saggy, too flabby – this list goes on. The right strength training exercises really can make a difference in your backside, depending on your body type and genetics.
Here are 12 tough but effective butt exercises for a strong, shapely butt that even you can’t help but stare and want to feel all the time.
1. Barbell hip thrust
Get ready to blast your backside with this butt-burning move.
How to do it: Sit on the ground with your back against a bench, feet planted firmly in front of you, and a padded barbell in your lap. Keeping the lumbar spine and knees stable, raise the barbell by extending your hips, making sure to push the hips upward using the glutes. Rise until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees (full hip extension), and then slowly descend back to the ground.
Mix up your reps and sets for this move and aim for anywhere between 3-4 sets of 6-20 reps. Some days you can go heavy for lower reps, some days you can go lighter for higher reps, and some days you can do both. Be warned, high-rep hip thrusts are brutal. The booty-burn is excruciating!
2. Glute and Hamstring extensions
This booty-shaping challenges glutes of all strength levels. If you’re new to exercise, start out with 3 sets of 15 reps. Intermediate exercisers should try 4 sets of 15 reps, holding 10 lbs, and advanced glutes can handle up to 5 sets of 15 reps, holding 25 lbs.
How to do it: Start standing, leaning forward on a back extension pad, with your toes turned out, knees bent (like a frog). Keeping your back flat, bend at your hips as far down as possible. To come up, push your thighs into the pad and squeeze your glutes, keeping your back straight the entire time. At the top, give your glutes an extra squeeze. Use a controlled tempo during the exercise: aim for a 2-3 second count on the way down, 1-2 seconds on the way up.
3. The Step Up
The step-up is one of the best butt exercises you can do to work on strength, power, and balance in a unilateral fashion (one side at a time). We all perform this basic functional movement many times a day, every day. It targets all the main large muscles of the legs, particularly the glutes and hamstrings, and really helps develop a nice shapely, toned rear end.
How to do it: Stand upright with one foot on a bench or step, holding dumbbells by your sides with your arms straight. Push off your top foot and step up onto the bench (or step) with both feet. Step down onto one foot, keeping the other foot on the bench and repeat. Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps on each leg.
4. The Uni-Leg Chair Squat
You cannot cheat on this exercise. This move takes the best glute activation a squat can offer and the best hip and thigh activation that a lunge can offer all rolled into one truly challenging but oh-so-worth-it exercise.
How to do it: Start by sitting close to the edge of a chair with arms crossed, chest lifted, right foot solidly on the floor, and left leg elevated about 8 inches. Engage your abs and lean your torso slightly forward to prepare to stand. Dig your right heel firmly into the exercise mat (or floor), shift glutes backward (as you do in a regular squat), and straighten you right knee not quite to full extension while squeezing up on your glutes. Hold your left leg up off the mat and balance for 3 counts. Lower slowly and repeat. Do 2-4 sets of 10 reps on each leg.
5. Quadruped Hip Extensions
While this exercise may seem simple, a research study actually found this move to elicit the most muscle activation for the gluteus maximus and the gluteus medius when compared to other common butt-shaping exercises (squats, leg press, etc.). It also elicits a significant amount of muscle activity in the hamstrings (which is important for sporting a great-looking backside). Plus, it can be done just about anywhere so it’s convenient for those who may be exercising while traveling or at home.
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees (quadruped position) with your knees below your hips and your wrists below your shoulders, fingers pointing forward. Keeping the core muscles engaged, slowly lift the left leg. Your knee should stay bent as you press your foot up toward the ceiling.
To ensure safety and effectiveness of this move, avoid sagging or arching your back by continuing to brace your core, and avoid rotating your hips by keeping the shoulders and hips squared to the floor during the entire exercise. Complete 8-12 reps with the left leg and then switch sides, completing 8-12 reps with the right leg.
6. Lunge Jump
This is a signature sprinter move to improve power, and the added bonus is that it really pumps up your glute muscles too.
How to do it: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step your right leg back into a reverse lunge, going as low as you can while keeping your back straight and making sure your left knee doesn’t go too far past the toe. Hold this lunge position for a 3 count then drive your right knee forward and upward.
Try to do this while working on your coordination, driving opposite arm to opposite knee. The aim is to get height, not distance, with each step. Don’t let the small range of motion fool you. Your buns are sure to be burning with this exercise.
7. Heavy Barbell Squat
You already know that squats are one of the best butt sculptors you can do, and adding heavy weight makes them even more effective. A good goal would be to squat your own body weight. Start off with at least 4 to 6 warm-up sets to work your way up to a work set, which should be performed at the heaviest weight you can safely manage for 3 sets of 5 reps.
A sample squat series might be: 2 sets of 5 reps at 45 lbs, followed by 5 reps at 65 lbs, 5 reps at 85 lbs (progressive warm-up), and then 3 sets of 5 reps with 105 lbs.
How to do it: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip distance, toes slightly turned out. Leading with your hips, lower your butt down to hip level, then stand up. Tip: From standing to squatting and back up again, the barbell should remain in a straight vertical line and always over the center of the foot.
8. Pretzel Side Kick
Warning: You’ll feel the burn for days (and days) after you do this exercise.
How to do it: Start seated with your right knee bent directly in front of your hip and left knee bent behind your left hip. Rotate your torso and place your hands on either side of your right knee. Brace your core as you lift your left knee and foot off the floor, keeping your chest lifted. Keep your left leg lifted and extend to kick, leg parallel to the floor. Bend your left knee back in and release it to the floor. That’s one rep. Do 15-20 reps on each side.
Training tip: If lifting your knee is too challenging, start by just lifting your foot and then add a side kick when you’re ready.
9. Box Step Squat
This move combines two butt-shaping exercises we all love to hate—lunges and squats—to shape and lift your rear end.
How to do it: Bring your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointing forward, palms pressed together in front of your chest. Squat down until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Step your right foot out to right side as wide as possible, then bring your left foot in toward the right, coming back to starting position, still maintaining your deep squat. Step your right foot back, as wide as possible, then bring left foot back, maintaining the deep squat. Next, step your left foot out to left side as wide as possible, then bring your right foot in toward the left. Finally, step your right foot out to right side as wide as possible, then bring left foot in toward the right. That’s one rep. Repeat 10 times. Want to make it harder? Do it entirely on your toes!
10. Bridge with Leg Extension
The bridge isolates the gluteus maximus because the leg is bent at the knee and therefore the hamstring is less active. Extending the opposite knee serves to put that much more work onto the glute of the stationary leg, and balancing on the one foot recruits the other glute muscles on the outside of the pelvis for stability. This gives great shape to the buttock in general.
How to do it: Lie faceup with your knees bent, feet flat on floor, and hands at your sides. Perform a pelvic tilt and then raise your hips off the mat to create a straight line with your body, aligning your knees, hips, and shoulders. Hold this position while breathing. Straighten out one leg, keeping the thighbone and knees exactly aligned, and hold. Repeat with other leg. Clench your butt so that your hips stay lifted the entire time. Forster recommends doing this exercise three times per week, starting with 5 reps per side, holding each for 5 counts for first week, then progressing to 8 reps/8 count on week two and then 10 reps/10 counts thereafter.
11. Booty Lifts
You will literally lift your buns with this awesome exercise that uses suspension straps to work your glutes, hamstrings, and core. If you don’t have a suspension trainer use a stability ball instead.
How to do it: Lie faceup with your heels in foot cradles under an anchor point, arms extended by your sides. Pressing through your glutes, lift your lower back a few inches off the floor. This is your starting position. Pull your heels toward your glutes, lifting hips a few inches higher. Return to start. Do 2 sets of 15 reps. For an extra booty blast, add a set of runners (bending one knee in at a time) at the end.
12. Single-Leg RDL Circuit
The single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL) is an awesome booty-builder. This circuit is so effective because it continuously hits the glutes in different ways by changing the point of maximal loading. The point of maximal loading (when the weight is heaviest because the lever arm is longest) when doing RDLs is when the torso is at 90 degrees from where the resistance is originating. To blast your glutes, you’ll do the move three ways:
1. RDLs with a barbell (or dumbbell) to maximally load the glutes in the bottom range of the exercise.
2. RDLs using a low cable to maximally load the glutes in the middle range.
3. RDLs using a high cable to maximally load the glutes more in the top range.
How to do it: Grab a barbell (or a set of dumbbells) and stand on left leg. Keeping your spine naturally arched, hinge forward at the hips (push your hips toward the wall behind you), and allow the barbell to lower towards the floor. As you lower, bend your left knee slightly and lift your right leg behind you to counter your balance. Return back to start, keeping your back straight and lowering your right leg (right foot should remain off the floor). Repeat for 8-12 reps, and then do the same on the other leg. Next, grab a low-positioned cable and repeat. Finally, repeat the circuit with a high-positioned cable.